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A new North Adams Regional Hospital opens, admits its first patient

Ten years ago this week people in northern Berkshire County were devastated when their regional hospital abruptly closed. But in North Adams, Massachusetts, Thursday, about 150 people gathered to celebrate the opening of a new hospital, which admitted its first patient.

After a $2.85 million renovation, Berkshire Health Systems opened the new North Adams Regional Hospital with 18 in-patient beds. If there's the demand, it can expand to up to 25 beds, after renovating another unit.

Just before a ceremonial ribbon cutting, Berkshire Health Systems President and CEO Darlene Rodowicz said she had been smiling all afternoon.

"And there's lots of smiles going on inside that building," she said outside to the crowd of well-wishers. "I'm excited see all of you to celebrate this amazing milestone."

Rodowicz said by offering access to medical care close to home, the hospital aims to reduce health disparities in northern Berkshire County.

The facility got its state license this week, but is still waiting for approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to be designated as a "critical access hospital." The designation means Medicare will pay for full staffing, even on days when only one Medicare patient is seen. It's a way to fund health care in rural areas that are sparsely populated.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said he helped tweak the criteria for the critical access designation so that the North Adams facility would qualify.

"We were able to change the language based upon a single lane highway, a mountainous region, difficult weather in the winter and the fact that North Adams needed a full service critical access hospital," he said.

Neal said the opening was "a most significant day," adding it was more common across the country for hospitals to close.

"America's got a real challenge with rural health care for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is pay scale. So, today we celebrate this opening against all odds," he said.

North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey was among the officials cutting the ceremonial ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors. She recalled meeting health care workers who lost their jobs in 2014.

"People didn't realize at the time," Macksey said, "how much of an impact the closing of this hospital had not only on health care, but the economic dynamic of the city of North Adams and our surrounding communities."

She said since BHS had invested in "this home town hospital," there was hope. "Hope for the community and hope for health care in general," she said.

After the old hospital closed, Berkshire Health Systems opened a 24-hour emergency facility. Then it bought the property and began offering outpatient services such as dialysis, radiology and some outpatient surgery.

The facility will continue to offer outpatient care, along with inpatient and observation services.

Berkshire Health Systems is a funder of this station. That affiliation does not affect NEPM's news coverage.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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